Pomegranates, mattocks and more: Gifts gardeners will love

Gardeners should be the easiest people in the world to buy for. There are so many tools, plants, books, and gewgaws marketed to this crowd. But it’s the endless choices that make it hard to come up with a really special gift.

To make gift giving even more of a minefield, the most hyped gardening products are often the least useful or interesting to people who truly and deeply love plants. As one who fits in this category, I’ve come up with a short list of gift ideas that range from around  $15-$75 and will result in you getting on your gardeners’ good side for the whole year.


For the practical gardener: soil testing

Almost every gardening expert intones about the importance of getting your soil tested, and barely anybody ever does it. But  it’s easy to give the peac of mind of tested soil to the no-nonsense local gardener in your life.

The best and cheapest soil test can be ordered online. Complete instructions will be on the website, but basically you just sneak a small sample of soil from your intended’s garden. Fill out the online form, print it, and send it along with the sample to the lab. Usually in less than a week the results come back, and will give an analysis of the soil’s organic matter, pH level, contaminants, and extractable nutrients. The results will include recommendations for nutrient and pH adjustments as well. Your gardener will be thrilled.


For the collector: Russian pomegranate

Until a few years ago, I had never seen a pomegranate bush, just the piles of fruit in the supermarket. Then a friend gave me a Russian Pomegranate bush, and I fell in love.

Normally pomegranates would never make it even partway through a Philadelphia winter, but the Russian pomegranate is perfectly hardy here. Mine has made it through several harsh winters without being wrapped or protected and hasn’t suffered any damage.

This attractive shrub is a fast growing, multi-stemmed plant with fine, shiny green foliage. The simple flowers are extremely showy and a beautiful deep orange color. As the delicate petals fall, the waxy base of the flower swells and becomes the fruit, which ripens through the summer and is ready to harvest in October.

Russian pomegranates are a little smaller than the ‘Wonderful’ variety sold in supermarkets, but delicious in flavor.  An amazing plant.

If you really want to send your collector gardener into spasms, track down a used copy of the fascinating memoir Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist’s Exile from Eden, by Dr. Gregory M. Levin.

As a boy he survived (barely) the German siege of Leningrad, and his career as a punicologist (one who studies the pomegranate) took place under Stalin’s regime, which regularly sent scientists, including Levin’s beloved colleagues, to the gulag.

Ironically, it was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that undid forty years of Levin’s careful work with pomegranate breeding, forcing him to flee Turkmenistan and his collection of 1, 117 different varieties, including the one that now grows in my garden.

But as Levin writes in this memoir, “One does not choose one’s times. One just lives in them and dies.” An amazing book.


For the physical gardener: A mattock

Some people love the physicality of gardening. Digging out stumps, moving around huge mounds of soil, building stone walls. The more herculean a task, the more they want to attack it.

For these gardeners, I recommend a mattock. It’s like a pickax, but way better. The kind I like is a cutter mattock, which combines an ax blade on one end and an adze on the other.

A mattock can be used to dig, pry, chop roots, and as a lever to move heavy logs and rocks out of the way. The long handled varieties are available in two weights, five pound (which actually weighs eight pounds) and 2.5 pound (which actually weighs 5 pounds.)

Unless your gardener is a large person, get the smaller version, which is much lighter to wield and less fatiguing to use for long periods, which they will want to do.


For the romantic dreamer: Gardens Illustrated

Gardening is the most aspirational of hobbies. Visits to amazing public gardens, lush photos, and beautiful books provoke a combination of envy, ambition, and lust in many of us. If you know someone who likes to drool over pretty pictures, get them a subscription to the most gorgeous, (and most expensive!) gardening magazine around – Gardens Illustrated.

Despite its prosaic title, this magazine is all about our romance with the garden. It’s British, so you can’t even grow all of the plants  featured in each issue. The occasional recipe can’t be followed without complicated metric conversions. But for some people this couldn’t be farther from the point.


All of these gifts are available online with just a quick Web search.  Besides the soil sampling, which requires a little work on the part of the gifter, all of the items can be on their way to your beloved gardener with just a few clicks of the mouse.


You can contact Nicole Juday at njuday@whyy.org.

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